Keep ICE Out of the Courts!

By Miriam B.

NYC-DSA’s Immigrant Justice Working Group delivered more than 4,000 petition signatures to the office of NYS Chief Judge Janet DiFiore on October 11, demanding that DiFiore change courthouse policy to prevent the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency from arresting undocumented immigrants in New York courts.

The group of seven was quickly surrounded by security officers who kicked them out after one security officer shouldered a DSAer into a wall and tried to take his phone, because he was filming the petition delivery. The head of security said that it was against policy to film in a courthouse, but the policy wasn’t posted visibly. Furthermore, the building wasn’t a courthouse; it was the Office of Court Administration, in lower Manhattan. The group ended up handing the petitions to an administrative officer. You can read the details of the ICE Out of the Courts petition delivery in Splinter.

ICE arrested or attempted to arrest at least 144 undocumented immigrants in New York courthouses in 2017, many of them for low-level offenses, according to the Immigrant Defense Project. This is having a chilling effect on people reporting crimes, so people are less likely to report abuse by domestic partners or landlords, says Elijah Stevens, a member of the DSA Immigrant Justice Working Group. As Know Your Rights information has become more widespread amongst New York’s immigrant communities and an effective tool for deterring home arrests, immigration rights activists have seen ICE turn to courthouses as prime targets for targeting immigrants.

Enlace, Hand in Hand, the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City, the Bronx Defenders Organizing Project, and NYC-DSA were among the groups that collected the petition signatures. After DSA delivered thhe petitions, the groups rallied in Foley Square in the pouring rain.

Standing under a bright red umbrella, NYS Assembly candidate Catalina Cruz promised the sodden crowd that she would be their partner in Albany, fighting for immigrant rights. “We have to keep ICE out of the courts, out of our schools, and out of our hospitals,” she declared.

Cruz beat an Independent Democratic Caucus member of the Assembly in the Democratic primary election in September to represent Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. She was undocumented herself for 10 years after migrating to the US from Colombia with her mother, a domestic worker. If she wins the the general election in November, as is widely expected, she will be the first former undocumented immigrant to be elected to public office.

The NY State legislature will likely consider the Protect Our Courts Act, introduced in May. The bill would prevent civil arrests of people in the courts, or going to or leaving them. It is specifically aimed at stopping ICE’s courthouse arrests of undocumented immigrants.

NYC-DSA’s Immigrant Justice Working Group plans to keep the pressure on in their campaign to end ICE courthouse arrests, regardless of what happens in Albany. Working in coalition with other immigrant rights groups, NYC-DSA aims to end courthouse arrests in New York and bolster sanctuary protections for undocumented immigrants, while calling attention to New York City’s discriminatory policing and prosecution practices and the false dichotomy between “good” and “bad” immigrants.